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Republicans Threaten to Delay Vote on War Funding

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Now to a story about the funding of the war in Iraq. A new spending bill worth $184 billion includes money the president wants for the war. There are also funds for Democratic priorities: expanding the GI Bill and extending unemployment benefits. The vote on the spending bill was expected as early as today but looks more likely to be pushed into next week, in part because House Republicans are stalling the vote, accusing the Democrats of abusing their power.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

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BRIAN NAYLOR: Once again, Congress is gearing up for a fight with the White House over funding the war in Iraq. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, drew up the House bill, a part of which he opposes, and hopes other lawmakers are as fed up as he is.

Representative DAVID OBEY (Democrat, Wisconsin): Well, I hope that the Congress gets so blasted fatigued that it finally recognizes this war is a turkey. To me it's obvious we have a majority of the House against the war but we don't have a - we don't have two-thirds. And that means that we can't beat the president on it, and that means it's only the election that's going to determine whether or not there's a change in direction for this stupid war.

NAYLOR: Obey says he'll vote against the war funds in the bill, so too will many and perhaps most House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): I myself will be voting against the funding of the war. I assume that it will get to the floor - to the president's desk, but it's not anything I'm promoting.

NAYLOR: Democrats figure Republicans will provide most of the votes to fund the war, and they've divided the bill into three parts. Part one contains the war funding; part two includes a goal of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of next year. It would also ban interrogation techniques not authorized in the Army field manual.

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The third part of the package includes funds for a host of programs, in part because Democrats anticipate this may be the year's only spending bill. It includes money to extend jobless benefits and for education benefits for veterans returning from Iraq. Dave Obey...

Rep. OBEY: So I make no apology whatsoever for saying if we're going to fight this stupid war, then the people who fight it ought to be able to get some thank you from the country for being the only people in our society who have experienced a sacrifice because of it.

NAYLOR: Republicans are incensed by the Democrats' plan - not so much for what's in it but because they were excluded from the process of drawing it up. To show their displeasure, they slowed the House to a crawl yesterday, calling for dozens of time-consuming votes to adjourn. At one point Kansas Republican Todd Tiahrt even insisted on a roll call vote in favor of Mother's Day.

Representative TODD TIAHRT (Republican, Kansas): I ask for a recorded vote because I'm sure every member wants their mother to know that they have...

(Soundbite of gavel banging)

Rep. TIAHRT: ...supporting the goals of Mother's Day.

Unidentified Man: ...is out of order. Recorded vote is requested. Those...

NAYLOR: For the record, Congress voted in favor of Mother's Day, 412-0.

This is the start of what's likely to be a weeks-long process in Congress over Iraq. Democratic leaders don't want to end funding for the war altogether, nor do they want difficult votes during this year's campaigns. So they hope to resolve the matter this spring and wait for a new Democratic president to change policy.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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